Fri Jun 14 2:09pm ET
By TIM REYNOLDS
AP Basketball Writer
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Whenever Toronto coach Nick Nurse needed inspiration this season, he merely needed to look at his office wall.
Hanging there is a big photo, a finish-line shot of the 2015 Travers Stakes at historic Saratoga Race Course. There are two horses in the frame; one is Triple Crown winner and overwhelming favorite American Pharoah, the other is Keen Ice - who wasn't getting much attention from bettors and had never won on such a big stage.
Keen Ice ran a perfect race that day, and knocked off the champion.
''I just really like the picture,'' Nurse said.
Yes, and there's symmetry now. His Raptors ran a perfect race - and knocked off the two-time NBA champions.
Nurse, a 51-year-old basketball journeyman who has been a coach for 13 different teams in four countries over the last 30 years, is now the coach of the best team in the world. Unknown no more and someone who never will be anonymous again, Nurse guided the Raptors to their first NBA championship in a six-game defeat of the Golden State Warriors.
''I think you can't do very good work if you don't love what you're doing,'' Nurse said after the Raptors dethroned the Warriors on Thursday night. ''I just, I don't know, I never really got discouraged. I didn't really care at the level I was coaching at, I was just trying to learn and get better. That's it.''
Clearly, he learned. And he got better.
Toronto defeated Orlando, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Golden State in these playoffs. That means Nurse, 0-0 as an NBA coach before this season, got his team past ones coached by Steve Clifford, Brett Brown, Mike Budenholzer and Steve Kerr. That foursome is about the toughest draw a first-year coach in the league could get in his maiden postseason voyage.
''He's one of the hardest-working coaches I've seen,'' Raptors assistant Jamaal Magloire said during Toronto's victory celebration after the title-clinching win. ''When it comes to this team's success, he deserves every bit of it.''
Nurse played at Northern Iowa, started his coaching career there as an assistant and wound up becoming a head coach at Grand View University when he was just 23. He coached in Belgium and Britain. He won a pair of British Basketball League titles as a coach, in Birmingham in 1996 and London in 2000, then got a couple titles in what is now called the G League.
The second G League crown got him noticed. He was at Rio Grande Valley, guided them to a title in 2013 and that's when the Raptors called and wanted to talk to him about offense. They ended up hiring him as an assistant.
''I remember the day well,'' Nurse said. ''Good day.''
And there's some symmetry to it as well. Nurse's last G League team at Rio Grande Valley won the title series over Santa Cruz - ironically, the Warriors' affiliate.
''Oh, man, I'm happy for him,'' Raptors guard Danny Green said.
Nurse is quirky, in a way that shows he's secure doing his own thing.
He often arrived for pregame media sessions wearing a black Nike cap bearing his initials. He carries his guitar on road trips. He will be remembered for throwing a box-and-one defense at Warriors guard Stephen Curry during the NBA Finals, a scheme that probably had never been previously used by anyone in the title series.
He has paid his dues.
The G League, the BBL, the United States Basketball League, the Belgian League, NCAA Division I basketball, NAIA basketball, and now the NBA. Nurse has done the laundry. He's done the driving. He did some of those jobs for almost no money at all, maybe a couple hundred dollars or so a week.
And now he's the ninth coach to win a title in his first NBA season. Coaching nomads everywhere have a new hero now.
''I would hope it inspires some people that are in those situations to keep working,'' Nurse said. ''I always say that all those jobs meant the world to me at the time, right, winning with Birmingham in `96, winning with Rio Grande Valley, whatever year that was. And those games and jobs meant the world to me.''
His world is much different now.
For someone who has never chased attention, it'll be unavoidable when the Raptors defend their NBA title next season.
''Nick has been unbelievable,'' Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said. ''He's kind of been the captain of the ship, and he's weathered the storms, and he's kept us even-keeled, and he's made some unusual adjustments and experimented with things. And some things worked and some things didn't, but he was trying. He tried everything and you've got to give that guy a lot of credit in his first year to win a NBA championship.''
Memphis Grizzlies guard Grayson Allen scored 20 points and made a career-high six threes in 27 minutes off the bench on Wednesday. Allen cashed in on spot-up opportunities all night as Memphis got into the painted area and repeatedly dished it out to him. The 24-year-old has averaged 17.3 points and 4.3 made three-pointers per game in three contests since the NBA's return. While he won't produce many other stats besides points and threes, he's certainly a spark for this Memphis team. He can be a real sneaky DFS play, though he probably shouldn't be used against the Thunder on Friday. They've been stingy in their defense of the arc this year.
Memphis Grizzlies center Jonas Valanciunas notched a double-double for the third straight game on Wednesday against the Utah Jazz. Valanciunas held his own against two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, scoring 21 points with 14 rebounds and three assists. The former first-round pick wasn't as efficient as he was in the past two games, but made up for it with his point, rebound and assist totals. Playing on a Memphis team trying to fight for the eighth seed, Valanciunas should be a sneaky double-double machine down the stretch. He'll be a good start on Friday against the Thunder, as he had no trouble with Steven Adams earlier in the year.
Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley recorded 23 points with seven assists, five rebounds, four triples and a steal in a 124-115 win over his former team, the Grizzlies. After a slow start in the bubble, Conley is heating up. The Ohio State product has averaged 23.5 points, 7.5 assists and 3.5 triples per game over the last two contests. Most importantly, Conley has excelled at the same time as Donovan Mitchell, which is a good sign because it shows they can both eat for fantasy purposes. Conley is a good bet to stay hot against the Spurs on Friday.
Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles was a marksman on Wednesday, drilling six triples en route to a 25-point performance in a win over the Grizzlies. Ingles scored just 12 points in his previous two games combined, so this game was sorely needed. Though he wasn't scoring much, he has been a sneaky source of assists, logging 14 in three bubble games. More importantly, the minutes have been there for the 32-year-old now that Bojan Bogdanovic (wrist) is out for the rest of the season. Ingles should be used in DFS against the Spurs on Friday, considering they rank in the bottom-half of the league in both three-pointers and assists allowed.
Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert double-doubled for the second straight game on Wednesday. Gobert scored 21 points, pulled down 16 boards and added three blocks, two steals and an assist in the victory over the Memphis Grizzlies. Amazingly, the veteran big man has hit on 85 percent of his free-throws after making them at a 62.3 percent clip prior to the shutdown. While the shooting almost certainly won't continue, DFS players can count on Gobert as a double-double and blocks machine in the bubble. He gets a great matchup on Friday against the Spurs, who just surrendered a double-double to Nikola Jokic.
Washington Wizards center Thomas Bryant continued his masterful development inside the NBA bubble, compiling his third straight double-double during Wednesdays loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. Bryant battled All-Star Joel Embiid and managed to finish with 19 points, 10 rebounds, and four blocks. Prior to the restart of the NBA season, Bryant attempted more than two three-pointers just three times this year; over his last three games, he has fired up a combined 15 attempts, which could be an extra element he adds to his game. With Bradley Beal, John Wall, and Davis Bertans all absent from Orlando, Bryant will have the opportunity to be a massive impact star on both ends of the court for as long as Washington is on the floor in 2019-20.
Philadelphia 76ers point guard/power forward Ben Simmons made it just 23 minutes into Wednesdays contest against the Washington Wizards before sustaining a knee injury that forced him from the game. While he was seen walking away from the court without crutches, he appeared to be in considerable discomfort near the conclusion of the contest. In addition to missing four free throws, Simmons scuffled from the field to the tune of 2-for-10. He managed to compile eight points, six rebounds, four assists, and two steals during his time on the court, but those numbers fell well below what DFS owners were anticipating. Tobias Harris figures to continue seeing a sizable offensive role if Simmons is out of the mix Friday against Orlando, while Al Horford could see a larger role on the glass.
Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid compiled 30 points and 11 rebounds during Wednesdays victory over the Wizards, now having averaged just shy of 33 points per game inside of the bubble. Embiid packed the stat sheet by adding three assists, three steals and two blocks across his 33 minutes, continuing to deliver contributions in ancillary categories. With Ben Simmons (knee) having departed early, Embiid may be looking at an even larger offensive role when he next takes the floor Friday against Orlando. Embiids most recent meeting versus the Magic resulted in him tying his season high with four made triples.
Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard (knee) is listed as questionable for Wednesday's game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. He was limited to non-contact portions of practice on Tuesday due to soreness in his right knee. The Lakers have already locked up the No. 1 seed, so they can afford to be cautious. JaVale McGee would likely be looking at a boost in playing time if Howard sits out. He could be a low-cost DFS option, but it's tough to trust McGee right now.
Brooklyn Nets guard Caris Levert (thigh) should be back in the starting five for Wednesday's game against the Boston Celtics. The Nets rested LeVert, Joe Harris, and Jarrett Allen on Tuesday because it was the front end of a back-to-back set. It doesn't sound like the Nets are planning to limit LeVert or Harris at all. LeVert has struggled a bit during the bubble, but he is the Nets best scoring threat right now. He'll remain a reliable DFS option going forward.
Brooklyn Nets guard Joe Harris (back) is listed as probable for Wednesday's game against the Boston Celtics. Harris, Caris Levert (thigh) and Jarrett Allen (rest) all sat out of Tuesday's game to rest since the team has a busy schedule. Harris has been outstanding during the bubble, but that is likely because the team is shorthanded. He should continue to be a reliable DFS option going forward. Timothe Luwawu, Tyler Johnson, and Garrett Temple will lose some value with Harris and LeVert expected to return on Wednesday.
Brooklyn Nets guard Jamal Crawford (hamstring) has been ruled out for Wednesday's game against the Boston Celtics. He suffered the injury during his bubble debut and was only able to play for six minutes of the game. Both Caris Levert and Joe Harris are expected to be back after resting during their last contest. It sounds like Crawford is day-to-day right now, but it's unclear when he'll be back on the court. Both LeVert and Harris should be reliable DFS options with the Nets depleted right now.
Philadelphia 76ers forward Glenn Robinson III (hip) has been ruled out for Wednesday's game against the Washington Wizards. It will be his third straight game on the sidelines. It's unclear if he'll suit up at all during the bubble. Robinson isn't much of a factor in the rotation anyway. James Ennis and Alec Burks will see a few more minutes without Robinson available. Neither of them are reliable DFS options with the Sixers mostly healthy.
San Antonio Spurs guard Marco Belinelli (ankle) is available or Wednesday's game against the Denver Nuggets. He has been banged up with an ankle issue, but appears good enough to play here. He should get a handful of minutes, but likely won't do enough to warrant ownership in DFS contests. Lonnie Walker IV and Keldon Johnson have been gaining some momentum, so both of them are expected to see significant playing time.
Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (hamstring) has been ruled out for Wednesday's game against the San Antonio Spurs. He'll join Gary Harris (hip) and Will Barton (knee) on the sideline for this one. Monte Morris will get another start, while Michael Porter Jr. looks to build off his solid performance from last game. Both players are worth looking at for DFS contests.
Memphis Grizzlies forward Brandon Clarke will jump into the starting five for Wednesday's game against the Utah Jazz. Jaren Jackson Jr. (knee) suffered a knee injury and is done for the rest of the season. That means, Clarke's value should skyrocket with significant playing time. Kyle Anderson and Gorgui Dieng should benefit as well, but Clarke is the best fantasy option out of the bunch. Clarke is going to have enormous upside going forward.
Orlando Magic guard Michael Carter-Williams (foot) has been ruled out for Wednesday's game against the Toronto Raptors. He was listed as doubtful after an MRI revealed a tendon strain. There is a good chance that he is sidelined longer than one game. That means, both Markelle Fultz and D.J. Augustin should benefit until Carter-Williams is back on the court. Fultz is the better fantasy option out of the two and is worth a look in DFS contests.
Los Angeles Clippers guard Lou Williams made his NBA Bubble debut on Tuesday, finishing a 117-115 loss to the Suns with seven points, six assists, and six rebounds. He was clearly rusty, shooting blanks from downtown with two attempts and committing three turnovers in 21 minutes. It looks like Sweet Lou will need a bit time to get into game shape, but he's in a great spot to perform at the moment, with the Clippers' second major bench contributor Montrezl Harrell (personal) missing. Williams will have three more games this week to find his form.
Los Angeles Clippers guard/forward Paul George had very little success from the field in Tuesday's clash with the Phoenix Suns, missing six of his seven attempts from downtown and finishing 6-for-17 overall from the floor. However, he still managed to exceed his scoring average with 23 points thanks to a perfect 10-for-10 record at the charity stripe. George added six rebounds and five assists. He had started life very well in Orlando, especially from deep with a 14-for-22 record, so this should just be a blip. George gets a chance to bounce back on Thursday against Dallas.
Los Angeles Clippers small forward Kawhi Leonard led the team with 27 points in Tuesday's 117-115 loss to the Suns, shooting 10-for-21 from the field and 2-for-4 from outside. He also had seven rebounds with three assists and one steal. Kawhi has had some shooting struggles in Orlando but he's starting to find his rhythm again, which is bad news for Dallas. Leonard has averaged 32 points and 9.5 rebounds against the Mavs this season, and this with 18 percent three-point shooting. The stage is set for him to produce a huge game on Thursday.